By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Members of an independent panel charged with reviewing sexual misconduct at the United States Air Force Academy offered sharp words for the institution's leaders, but no real closure for victims who have anxiously awaited their report for the past three months.
In a July e-mail exchange among sexual-assault victims that was shared with Westword, one former cadet pleaded with her friends to provide the panel with information that would incriminate commandant of cadets Brigadier General Taco Gilbert and training group commander Colonel Laurie Sue Slavec, who were both removed in March as a result of the rape scandal. "It's becoming urgent that we scrape any proof that Gilbert and Slovak [sic] lied together so that we can get them indicted on pergury [sic] charges. Specifically they claimed to have embraced victims, never ignored a rape case, and never punished a victim for rape," wrote the cadet.
The seven-member panel did find "a chasm in leadership" at the academy that "helped create an environment in which sexual assault became a part of life," panel chair and former Florida congresswoman Tillie Fowler said during a Monday press conference in Washington, D.C. Specifically, the panel found fault with Gilbert, Slavec, current dean of faculty Brigadier General David Wagie and Lieutenant General John Dallager, who was not only ousted as superintendent but also demoted to the rank of major general.
Fowler went on to say that "every effort must be made to formally document" the failure of recent and past academy leaders -- including Air Force secretaries and chiefs of staff -- and to include those failures in their military records. But panel members stopped short of documenting the failures themselves, instead calling on the Defense Department Inspector General to do so.
Jessica Brakey, who was disenrolled from the academy after she reported being raped, hopes her former leaders will someday be held accountable. "I don't have as much faith in the DoD IG as I did in the independent panel," Jessica says. "But I hope they'll take the panel's recommendations seriously and do the right thing."
The Fowler-led panel did, however, come up with 21 specific recommendations to improve an academy where one in five male cadets don't believe women belong. The panel is calling for more oversight by the academy's board of visitors (of which Senator Wayne Allard is a member), members of Congress and the Air Force Inspector General; confidentiality for victims who report sexual assault and rape; putting a psychotherapist in charge of handling such reports; and an extension of tenure for the superintendent (from three years to four) and the commandant of cadets (from two years to three) in order to provide more continuity.
While much ado has been made of the honor code, the theoretical cornerstone of academy life, the panel didn't recommend changing the system that enforces it ("Honor Rolled," July 17). Although "deficiencies in the honor code system...that helped contribute to this intolerable environment" were found, the panel stated that Air Force Secretary James Roche's Agenda for Change, which stresses the importance of living by the spirit, rather than the letter, of the honor code is sufficient.
The report also took aim at a thirteen-member "working group" that Roche appointed early this year to investigate sexual assaults at the academy. That group, headed by Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker, issued a report in June that found "no systemic acceptance of sexual assault at the academy, no institutional avoidance of responsibility, or systemic maltreatment of cadets who report sexual assault" ("Academy Gets a Pass," June 26).
That soft stance, the Fowler panel determined, was unacceptable. "The Panel believes that the Air Force General Counsel attempted to shield Air Force Headquarters from public criticism by focusing exclusively on events at the academy," the report reads.
For all its chiding of Air Force leaders, the panel's report makes no mention of what can be done to help the very people who brought this issue to light. "It's great that they want to readminister the institution with a leadership that works, but what about the victims?" Jessica asks, explaining that nothing has been done to ensure that rape victims who were kicked out of the academy can get their diplomas, receive their commissions or get some type of compensation for their suffering. "This is about the victims, right?"
January 30: Westword publishes "The War Within," a 10,000-word story documenting the cases of three women who said they were raped by fellow cadets at the Air Force Academy and then either punished or kicked out after reporting the crimes. Senator Wayne Allard writes to Air Force Secretary James Roche asking him to look into the rape allegations.
February 14: Roche announces a special panel to review sexual-assault policies in the military branch.
February 19: A team of Air Force investigators arrives at the academy to look into how rape cases have been handled and sets up a hotline for cadets and faculty to call. Those investigators are to report back to Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker -- and the thirteen-member "working group" she'll lead -- with their findings.
February 20: Allard publicly expresses concern over statements made to Westword by Brigadier General Taco Gilbert, the academy's commandant of cadets. Among other things, Gilbert said that a cadet who claimed to have been raped was involved in "some very high-risk behavior that night. Again, the behavior in no way justifies what happened to her, but when you put yourself in situations with increased risk, you have to take increased precautions to mitigate those risks. For example, if I walk down a dark alley with hundred-dollar bills hanging out of my pockets, it doesn't justify my being attacked or robbed, but I certainly increased the risk by doing what I did."